Imagine every day organizing your schedule around what will minimize your pain.
You wake up, take a shower, brush your teeth, put on deodorant then plan your schedule around activities that you know will exacerbate your chronic pain.
How miserable does that sound! Yet, this is what I think through most days.
Between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I developed a stress fracture (for the nerds, its called spondylosis) on my L4 vertebrae. I wore a back brace for six months and had to sit out of my junior season of high school football. I was told the fracture would never heal unless I opted for back surgery.
The “cure” for my pain today is good posture, core exercises, and pain medication. I focus on proper back posture and alignment, on doing core exercises, and on keeping my body weight low (not to show off as some have joked) so that my back won’t hurt.
These self remedies are pretty sufficient, keeping the pain to a dull roar. However, the activities that hurt my back most aren’t working out, lifting or running, but standing and sitting.
This past week was finals. Working toward a Master’s degree requires me to sit at a desk or table for hours doing math. My goal requires me to sacrifice much mental energy in keeping the pain at bay. During finals week, I probably spent more time thinking about my pain than about my work, planning the days less around work progress than potential for increased pain.
When I first learned about my stress fracture, I thought everything would be okay, but nobody tells you that pain is incessant, taking over your thoughts, lying in the background of your mind, changing your way of thinking, changing your life.
Recently due to an antidepressant I took for a short time, I gained about 40 pounds. The added weight added stress to an already fragile system, and my back ached more than ever. After switching antidepressants and doubling down on losing weight, I was scheduled for an MRI. The results showed a slight annular tear. My doctor basically confirmed that there was no significant change since high school which was causing the increased pain.
As I sat in the doctor’s office, I thought about the other chronic pains in my life:
- abandonment by my birth parents,
- separation from my blood siblings,
- depression that sometimes looms like a cloud.
These are not the complete list, but the most evident daily.
Everybody has these kinds of chronic pains, yet how ow often do we meet a stranger and wonder about the person behind the smile?
Pain can cloud our sense that hope is present. That hope is real.
That HE is real.
When the worst days come and I feel like giving up, I want to experience hope.
I know that Job continued to hope in God for years during his great pains. And I’ve read stories of missionaries tortured for their faith who still held hope at the end.
If these men and women could hope when all seemed lost than so can I.
And so can you.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
TONY HAMMACK is a grad student working toward a Master’s of Science in Mathematics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and he blogs at The Forge.
“I struggle with chronic pain and depression. I’m just a guy, trying to stay afloat.“